Sunday, 1 November 2015

On the Buses...two

Kitchen layout and border posts have much in common. They both suffer from similar design challenges and are generally bereft of any input from those who have to work with them. It's all about the flow. Prep the in the onto the plate...a linear progression. Stamp out of the old country....stamped into the new....clear customs....leave. A simple linear flow. Get it right and the time saved makes life easy.

The crossings at Tambo Quemado and at Pueblo Jama have identical designs, but handle an entirely different type and volume of traveler. The former might process a dozen cars and a bus each day, the latter will do that every couple of hours. The architect's remit would appear to be: cram as many people into an as claustrophobic space as possible, strangle the flow with red tape, (our cycles require five different stamps on one document). Now ask everybody to go outside and collect their hand luggage, only to find on your return that another busload has been disgorged into the arrivals cubicle. To add insult to injury we're sent back out yet again for the hold luggage. Remember, we've got two bicycles as well as all the panniers. Surprisingly, others have even more than us.

Each time we cross into Chile, I'm left with the impression that this is the first time officialdom has encountered these modern new-fangled transports: the charabanc omnibus and the velocipede.

It would have become manic if it weren't for the shepherding instincts of the bus conductor. Issuing and re-issuing the tourist cards that were ripped from the descending passengers' hands by the Andean gale. Now their dictatorial instincts are invaluable as they direct and cajole with near-saintly patience.

We clear the tribulations of officialdom and find our delay to be 21 hours. Like a greyhound out of it's trap, we break free. Through the afternoon and into the night, pulling back lost time. There's no stopping. It's a charge for the next frontier. No stops for refuelling, neither for bus nor passengers. Nobody has any Chilean pesos. The Perueños don't like their prices and the Argentines don't like their exchange rates. Like escaping convicts were racing to cross the line. Before it closes at midnight. Thirty minutes to go, twenty kilometres short, the conductor gets us organised. We're lined up down the aisle, documents open and ready, the tachometer on the bulkhead is stuck on 98kmh. We'll make it. Just. With the passenger manifest successfully presented, we attack. (It's supposed to be one bus : one booth : one queue.) We monopolise all three booths. The Navigator gets to the front and the immigration officer looks at her and, without consulting his computer screen, says "you're the Scottish cyclist". Must be the grey hair.

Now for the Peruvian crossing. We've been here before, we know how it works. So too do our fellow Perueños; they're going home. There's an obvious progression. There's also that sense of community that three days on a bus engenders. There's a flow. The young men grab the women's bags as they clear the X-ray machine, and spirit them into the bus hold. Our bikes are treated for what they are and not as potential narco-donkeys. Simple. Fast. Efficient.

They might be coming home, but there's still 1,293 km to go.

For us, we're in a reprise mode, watching out for remembered experiences. I awake as the sun rises and I know exactly where we are. We should, it's the fourth time that we've navigated the crazy gyrations and confluences that constitute the junction of the Pan-American and the Trans-Andean outside Arequipa. It's also the chance to check on those images that you remember, but now question: was that really an halal fishmeal factory? Was that yard full of Roman amphoras that we passed last time? Yes, and inconclusive; the gate was closed.

With that snow-bound delay, we will now by driving in daylight what would otherwise have been a dark time passage. We'll get to travel that spectacular road that clings to the cliff-face to the south of Chalá. Fortunately we'll be on the landward, cliffside of the carriageway. Or so I had assumed. The drivers are in catch-up mode. A lorry in front is a total affront, which requires the instant remedy of an overtake. Generally around an inside bend, which affords vertigo views over the kerbless edge down the barrierless cliff to the surf of the Pacific Ocean. A potential white knuckle ride; yet I find I have total faith in the skills of the maestros at the wheel.

It's when I eventually lay down on a still bed and close my eyes, I'm back on that bus, back in my high perch, for there's the flow of views, a motion memory of images emerging out of the vanishing point.

The timetabled schedule for this trip is around 72 hours; add on the delay at the pass and the total comes nowhere near our actual time. Somehow, somewhere the drivers have managed to recover seven hours. We've arrived back in Lima, with all our kit and bicycles complete. They've made our life easy. We're ready to pick up where we left off earlier this his year.